Team Management

A Dysfunctional Family

How many times have you heard a co-worker use the phrase, “Oh, we’re like family around here. A big dysfunctional family, but family.” I cringe when I hear people say that.

If I’m in a job interview and someone who works for that company uses that line, I would run out that door faster than you could blink. I don’t need dysfunction in my life, and I definitely don’t need it in my office. And yet, team dysfunction, for so many organizations, feels like a wicked problem – an intractable, unsolvable issue that you just have to learn to deal with.

As an aspiring or current manager of a nonprofit, you should definitely be familiar with Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. First published in ’02, it’s been a best seller and source of management tools for more than a decade. Lencioni lists the five dysfunctions that keep a team from working together as:

  • Absence of trust—unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
  • Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate
  • Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization
  • Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards
  • Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success

Have you been a part of a team where these dysfunctions existed? When I was younger, I definitely tried to keep conflict out of a team environment, but the older I get, the more I see it as a necessary tool. I recently talked about the importance of conflict to a team's creative process, and you’ll see here that Lencioni agrees. He specifically mentions fear of conflict, not conflict itself, as a dysfunction of a team.

If you’re witnessing any of these dysfunctions in your organization, I recommend taking action immediately. Don’t underestimate the value of team building. Make sure your team knows that you recognize the dysfunctions are there and are committed to making them disappear. Get started by watching this awesome TED Talk about The Marshmallow Test!


The Case for Conflict

In the nonprofit world, we have a tendency to want everything to be warm and fluffy all the time. Sometimes we deal with gritty issues, but they’re touching and moving, and it makes you feel good to make a difference. I’ve heard a lot of people complain that sometimes the work environment doesn’t reflect that positivity. “Why can’t we all just get along? Why can’t be FRIENDS?” The answer? If you never argued, you’d never get anything done.

Okay, so you’d probably still get work done. But it probably wouldn’t be the best work your team is capable of creating. In the past few weeks I’ve started listening to the HBR IdeaCast podcast from the Harvard Business Review. (Side note: I put these little 10-20 minute gems on par with TED Talks. They’re informative, entertaining and full of brilliant ideas. Please start listening immediately.) I recently listened to an episode that was published back in April, an interview with Leigh Thompson, who’s a professor at Kellogg School of Management and author of Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration.

Thompson talked about how conflict can increase creativity. She talked about the value of conflict on a team. It’s not really a new concept in management, but I really like the way she phrased the value of conflict:

On the one hand, conflict can bring a team to its knees with back biting and excessive argumentation, and back stabbing. And that’s kind of referred to as the bad type of conflict. Some people call it personality conflict where you attack the person.

The good type of conflict is what’s known as cognitive conflict, and that’s in some sense kind of what scientists should be doing. So they kind of debate ideas fiercely, but they don’t attack the intentions or personality of the person. There’s a lot of research in the management science literature that says, gosh, the only way you avoid group think and excessive like-mindedness is to have some kind of conflict in a team or group.

 I would definitely encourage you to listen (or read – the link I gave above includes a transcript) to everything Thompson says about conflict enabling creativity. It will really help you reframe the way you think about team conflict. And the important thing to take away here is to encourage cognitive conflict at your organization, not just between staff members, but with the board of directors as well. Make it clear that personality conflicts are unacceptable, but that your organization actually benefits from the diversity of ideas that healthy debate creates.

Everyone's got needs

I know you. You’ve got expectations. You’ve got wants. You’ve got needs. Don’t we all? With a liberal arts education, I think I heard about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs no fewer than 15 times a semester during my undergraduate program. You’ve probably seen it, too: hierarchy

A needs theory you may not be familiar with, though, is David McClelland’s theory of needs that puts things into a managerial context. His theory consists of the need for achievement, affiliation and power. I learned of this theory a few weeks ago, and find it to be an important and relevant concept to apply when motivating employees in a nonprofit organization.

As I’ve talked quite a bit about in this blog, employees in nonprofits tend to be motivated by much, much more than a paycheck. They tend to be very invested in the advancing the mission of the organization and motivated by the sense of fulfillment they receive when they know they’re supporting a cause they believe in. But a good manager doesn’t leave it at that.

McClelland, who was a psychologist that published his theory in the ‘60s, believed those who are motivated by a need for achievement are great with tasks. They like being able to check things off their list, and feedback on those tasks is extremely important to them. Others have a need for affiliation; they care a lot about social interaction. They want to be accepted by a group and like to collaborate. Finally, there are those who have a need for power. That sounds kind of sinister, doesn’t it? It’s not, I promise. These folks want to influence, teach or encourage others. Their status does matter to them, and they work well in competitive environments.

These are easy-to-understand categories, and it’s a pretty simplistic way at looking at what motivates your employees. But I think it works. If you couple an understanding of these motivations with an employee’s intrinsic investment in your nonprofit organization, you should be able to motivate your staff in ways that they can relate to. So, yes, your staff may be needy, but when their needs are so easy to meet, can you really afford to ignore them?